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Monday, March 21, 2011

Determining the Right Air Quality for Your Compressed Air System

Knowing the proper air quality level required for successful production is an important factor in containing compressed air energy and other operating costs, because higher quality air is more expensive to produce. Higher quality air requires additional air treatment equipment, which increases capital costs as well as energy consumption and maintenance needs. The quality of air produced should be guided by the degree of dryness and filtration needed and by the minimum acceptable contaminant level to the end uses.

Level of Air Quality: Plant Air
Applications: Air tools, general plant air

Level of Air Quality: Instrument Air
Applications: Laboratories, paint spraying, powder coating, climate control

Level of Air Quality: Process Air
Applications: Food and pharmaceutical process air, electronics

Level of Air Quality: Breathing Air 
Applications: Hospital air systems, diving tank refill stations, respirators for cleaning and/or grit blasting

Compressed Air Contaminants
Compressed air contaminants can be in the form of solids, liquids, or vapors. Contaminants can enter a compressed air system at the compressor intake, or can be introduced into the air stream by the system itself.

Air quality class is determined by the maximum particle size, pressure dewpoint, and maximum oil content allowed. For more information, see ISO 8573-1 Compressed Air Quality Classes in the Compressed Air System Best Practices Manual. (See references in sidebar).

One of the main factors in determining air quality is whether lubricant-free air is required. Lubricant-free air can be produced either by using lubricant-free compressors, or with lubricant-injected compressors and additional air treatment equipment. The following factors can help one decide whether lubricant-free or lubricant-injected air is appropriate:
  • If only one end use requires lubricant-free air, only the air supply to it should be treated to obtain the necessary air quality. Alternatively, it may be supplied by its own lubricant-free compressor. If the end uses in a plant require different levels of air quality, it may be advisable to divide the plant into different sections so that air treatment equipment that produces higher quality air is dedicated to the end uses that require the higher level of compressed air purification.
  • Lubricant-free rotary screw and reciprocating compressors usually have higher initial costs, lower efficiency, and higher maintenance costs than lubricant-injected compressors. However, the additional separation, filtration, and drying equipment required by lubricant-injected compressors will generally cause some reduction in system efficiency, particularly if the system is not properly maintained.
Careful consideration should be given to the specifi c end use for the lubricant-free air, including the risks and costs associated with product contamination before selecting a lubricant-free or lubricant-injected compressor. Centrifugal compressors also offer an alternative for plants whose end uses require lubricant-free air.


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